3D Printing and Bioplastic Waste: A Matter of Concern Explored through Actor-Network Theory, Co-design, and Critical Making

Matthew Harkness (University of New South Wales)
2021 Conference

This research interrogates assumptions around sustainable maker practices within the maker movement. It challenges the understanding of maker practice using 3D printing technology and bioplastic 3D printer filament as sustainable by accounting for the more-than-humans in design networks – and by extension maker practice. This research reports on my analysis of my practice-based research experiment called Biorecycling Machine within an Actor-Network Theory (ANT), Co-design and critical making framework. This research draws on ANT concepts through Co-design to reconceptualise the outcomes of design practice from mere artefacts to interconnected socio-material ‘design things’. I evaluate the idea of sustainable making using bioplastic materials and its long-term implications and interrupt the individualism inherent at the core of much debate in maker movement groups. I reframe maker practices as material-semiotic constellations of interactions constantly in flux. This research develops a methodology that combines Co-design – adapting the Science and Technology Studies framework of ANT for the field of design – and critical making – that combines hands-on making with critical reflection. In so doing, my project Biorecycling Machine re-evaluates widespread home 3D printing technology to intervene in the scale of waste produced in domestic manufacture with plastic.
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About the author

My name is Matthew Harkness and I am an emerging designer, researcher, and academic from Canada. I’m in the final year of my practice-based PhD at the University of New South Wales School of Art & Design in Sydney, Australia. My research draws on Actor-Network Theory and Co-design to critically examine 3D printing technology and its role in maker culture. From a sustainability perspective, my work uses Critical Making methods to interrogate how 3D printers support wasteful, exclusive, and exploitative maker practices. Through material experiments, my design work includes waste plastic and bioplastic materials, ceramics, electronics, and repurposed objects.